Video Night in Calcutta

In one week we  have: plugged in a car in Winnipeg, so at  -30 the oil will be able to circulate through the engine block: shared a bottle of award winning Red Rooster gewertz with friends at a small dinner party in the West End; visited with our friend Keith on the upper deck of a 747; had G&T’s with Peter and Peter on a roof overlooking the Chao Phrya river while a tropical deluge came down; and ridden in a taxi through Calcutta at night with a Bihari driver who speaks no English and doesn’t know where he is going. Don’t you just want to put that in a blender a drink it?

Bangkok. walk the wat (click on the links to see the videos)

Same same river,  but different water. We take the short cut from Khao San Rd. to Soi Rambuttri by cutting through the grounds of the Phra Songkran Wat. People in this country love to combine their three favorite activities: worship; food; and shopping. Incense and lotus blossoms can be purchased for offerings – and you can stop for a dish of noodles on the side. The commercialism is strongest around the east gate of the temple, where concessions have been sold to t-shirt vendors, a small outdoor restaurant, a fortune teller, and a masseuse. But then that is nothing compared to the other side of the wall.

It used to be that this lane was fairly quiet and leafy. Periodically the vendors would have to gallop off with their hastily packed carts as the bi-law police made a raid and issued fines. I guess the proper payments have been made; the stalls that have stayed against the temple walls now do business under permanent tarps. Their clients are caught from the endless run of fish-belly foreigners coursing through here.  At times it seems that the only Thais in sight are the ones serving them.

pantip plazaFor a more authentic local experience we head to Pantip  Plaza, where even the monks go for their hard and software needs. There are a few things we are shopping for, including a wireless mouse, a portable hard drive, and season three of Mad Men, but the big ticket is a video camera. The thing about Pantip is the volume of goods, the noise, and the concern that what you buy could be cheaper a floor up in a far corner make it exhausting.  Katheryn is worried that I (and her chance at a camera) might be fading, so she takes me to the food court. A couple coconut curries later, and we set out one more time to find our camera. As you can tell we found it; an unknown Chinese make from a company so dodgy they don’t even have a website. The most important point for our 17 year old salesman, Yu, was that it came in three colours. It could be that they are the only three cameras this company ever made. But it was cheap! And – knock on wood – it works great. There will be a  steep learning curve as we figure things out – our default video editing program, for example, refuses to recognize it – so please bear with us, and give us feedback on the results.


at the airportThe time in Bangkok was too short – especially considering that everywhere else in the northern hemisphere is getting crushed by cold. Included Calcutta, where it is going down to 13 C. , and the garbage fires people are burning to keep warm give this city a pall beyond its usual cloak of pollution. A new terminal is being built at Subhas Chandra Bose International (formally called after the local suburb, Dum Dum) , and gone is any pretense of keeping up appearances at the old one.  Where there was in the past a relatively orderly queue for taxis, now touts try to garb our baggage cart, and agree to any price I say – a sure sign that a rip-off will happen. Finally we get into our friendly Bihari’s old yellow Ambassador Taxi, who uses his meter and it isn’t until we are leaving the airport that I realize he hasn’t understood anything I have said and only has a vague notion of where we are going. But he has a good attitude. He asks if I want to go “bypass “or “direct”. I figure direct is probably better, and he slams the taxi over the divider of the exit he is taking and merges, with much honking , back into the main road traffic. I keep looking for landmarks that I know, since I still don’t have total confidence that we will end up anywhere near our destination. But Calcutta at night is giving me nothing. Katheryn, on the other hand,  has discovered that our video works in this low light, and with the drama and heart-wrenching misery and beauty of the city flowing by like a mirage, she is too absorbed to concern herself with mundane details.  Eventually, of course, the blanket-wrapped street dwellers, the kamikaze bicycles, the fluorescent –lit shops, the grim brick walls guarding other realities, they all sort themselves out into streets that I recognize. Then we are there, and there seems a long way from last week’s macaroni and cheese brunch in frozen Winnipeg. calcutta taxi

 More Calcutta videos:Calcutta the lovely

Calcutta the chaotic

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